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Private landowners’ liability for damage caused by their trees is clarified

Private landowners with trees on their property will welcome guidance from the courts on what they need to do to avoid the risk of claims if a tree causes damage to a neighbouring property.

A private landowner lived next to a railway line. During severe storms a tree in her garden split and half of it fell across the railway line. A passing train hit it and both train and track were damaged. There were no injuries as the train was not carrying passengers. The rail company claimed £325,000 compensation.

The court ruled that the landowner was not liable for damage to her neighbour’s property as there had been no previous indication that the tree was a danger. The court ruled:

• tree owners have a duty to act as reasonable and prudent landowners and must act to prevent dangers which are apparent to them;
• they should carry out regular, informal inspections and call in qualified arboriculturalists if they discover a potential problem or risk;
• their resources may be relevant – for example, the duty may be higher if the landowner has particular knowledge of trees.

The landowner in this case had carried out periodic, informal inspections of the tree, but there had been no indication of any potential problem or risk.


Landowners whose trees could potentially damage neighbouring property if they fall should carry out regular, informal inspections and call in qualified professionals if they spot potential problems or risks.

Case ref: Stagecoach South Western Trains Ltd v Hind & Anor [2014] EWHC 1891

5 September 2014

Alex Cook initially trained as a Barrister (non-practicing) before cross-qualifying as a specialist commercial and property litigation solicitor. Prior to becoming joint owner of Helix Law in 2013, he was Head of Litigation and one of the youngest partners in the region in a large firm based in Eastbourne. Comfortable and experienced litigating against large international City firms, he has successfully resolved complex commercial and property disputes for clients ranging from large international businesses and property investors to individual business people. Alex is an accredited commercial mediator  and he is increasingly asked to advise on contracts, risk, dispute avoidance and exit strategies. He also continues to develop and innovate our products, services and funding arrangements with the aim of making specialist litigation services more transparent and accessible.

This article is written to raise awareness of the issues it discusses and it may not be updated after it is first written, even if the law changes. It is not intended to be legal advice and cannot be relied on as such. Helix Law is not responsible or liable for any action taken or not taken as a result of  this article. If you think the matters set out affect you and you wish to apply them to your particular circumstances then we are happy to give you free initial telephone advice. 

Contact Helix Law on 01273 761 990 or email: [email protected]